Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Review - You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day

Short review: Felicia Day had a very strange, isolating, and often lonely childhood, but it was the perfect childhood to create the quirky internet star that she is today.

A home-schooled child
A violin prodigy
An internet star

Full review: The world is divided into two sets of people. The first consists of people who have never heard of Felicia Day. The second consists of people who have spent a lot of time on the internet. This memoir is mostly for people in the second group. Or at least the people in the second group who enjoy Felicia Day's online presence, because the best description for this book is "Felicia Day's public-facing personality in book form". If you like the projects that she has been instrumental in creating and bringing to life like The Guild, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, of The Flog, then you are likely to love this book. If you are one of the people who left nasty comments on the Gamer Girl, Country Boy video, or tried to intimidate her by publishing her personal information online, you're likely going to love this book, because we all know that you're secretly obsessed with Felicia.

You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) is described on the cover as a memoir, and not an autobiography, which seems to mean that it is an autobiographical book that doesn't really worry about making sure it covers absolutely everything about the author's life. What this means is that the book can concentrate on the highlights, recounting the cute, the funny, the awkward, and the weird events that led her to the quirky niche of celebrity that she now occupies. The book is also written in an extremely informal style, using a personal tone that makes the entire volume feel almost as if one were sitting in a room listening to Felicia tell her life story to you over some nice cups of tea. Day's story is told in a breezy, conversational style that reads almost exactly like she talks, so if you enjoy watching her interviews or video blog entries, you will almost certainly enjoy reading the book.

Unlike most memoirs and biographies, this one doesn't start with Felicia's childhood, but rather launches into an anecdote about meeting some teenage fans at a Build-a-Bear store. As she goes through the encounter, Felicia sums up the unusual nature of her celebrity, as the girls lavish adoration upon Day while their very confused mother (and other people in the store) try to figure out who she is, and why she is famous. After running through the usual options: Is Felicia in movies? (No). Is she on television? (No). Is she Emily Blunt? (No). She appears in internet videos. But my son is on the internet all the time and he's never heard of her. And so on. as she says in this section, people reading the book are likely to be either overjoyed that Felicia Day wrote a book they can buy, or they are very confused. And that is more or less everything about Felicia's status in the world right now encapsulated into one anecdote - either you are one of those people who know and love her, or you're completely oblivious to her existence.

For the most part, the whole book is told in this manner: Felicia gets onto a topic, picks a perfect anecdote to illustrate it, tells it in an endearing, adorably hilarious way, and then moves on. Many memoirs and biographies bog down when they discuss the subject's childhood, in large part because most people have fairly ordinary and uninteresting childhoods. For Felicia, on the other hand, her weird and at times wacky childhood is a large part of what made the actress who she is. Home-schooled for what Felicia calls "hippie reasons", the child of a free spirit in the very religious American South, the weird intellectual kid in a sea of mostly incurious peers, these are all parts of the story, and they are told with a self-deprecating wit and humor that allows Day to talk about her days as a child-prodigy with the violin without coming off as either obnoxious or pretentious. Day is also able to pull off the quite difficult feat of talking openly and honestly about her personal insecurities without seeming self-involved or self-indulgent.

Mixed in among the brief stop to discuss the awkwardness of being and overachieving, precociously talented sixteen year old whose mother drives them to school every day at the University of Texas at Austin, Felicia offers some fairly good insights on the perils of being a perfectionist and an overachiever. Obsessed with maintaining a 4.0 GPA while double majoring in music and math, Day sacrificed any semblance of a social life to reach this goal, which, in retrospect, was an almost pointless exercise that cost her far more than it was worth. This is not to say that getting a 4.0 GPA isn't worthwhile, but it was a goal without a purpose, and this tendency on Day's part, to single-mindedly pursue a chosen goal, proves to be one of her great strengths, and one of her great weaknesses.

Day's accomplishment of earning perfect grades in college was somewhat less than valuable because Day never intended to actually do anything for which this mattered. Day never intended to pursue a career in music. She never intended to apply to graduate school, or do any of the things that would require putting her college transcript in front of people who would care what the number attached to it was. Day always intended to move to California and pursue her dream of becoming an actress, and in an account that is both beautiful and depressing, she tells the tale of her struggles to make it in film. From sleazy casting calls for low-budget movies, to acting classes taught by sexist troglodytes, to the laundry list of physical imperfections that casting directors and agents provided (each, of course, offering different, and often contradictory advice about what the already adorably cute Day needed to do to herself to be attractive). Although this part of the book is told with Day's usual biting and satirical wit, it is also wearing and depressing.

Despite carving out a reasonably successful career being cast as the quirky best friend and appearing in numerous commercials, Day found the life almost soul destroying. Woven through the narrative is Day's relationship with the online world, starting in the very earliest days of the public internet. As a socially awkward home-schooled child, computers and the internet were the almost natural environment for Felicia, and she wandered from playing lots of Ultima to computer bulletin boards about Ultima, and eventually to places like GeoCities, AltaVista, and finally, many years later, World of Warcraft. Eventually that urge to be an overachieving perfectionist led to Warcraft virtually consuming all of Day's life, as she became addicted to crafting just the right items to allow her group to complete all of the most difficult "raids" in the game. The odd thing about the book is that it even makes Day's slow transformation into a shut-in who spent virtually all of her waking hours playing an online computer game into an interesting story.

The ability to make the story of a somewhat neurotic, socially awkward, insecure woman who spends countless hours playing computer games into an interesting tale should come as little surprise to most readers, as that is essentially the plot of The Guild. As usual, Day was an early adopter when it came to online video projects. It doesn't seem that long ago, but The Guild first aired in 2007, less than two years after the creation of YouTube itself. Originally written as a television pilot that served as a project to pull Day out of her Warcraft-induced lethargy, The Guild was, like its creator, quirky and off-beat, and impossible to neatly categorize. This is part of what makes this memoir so compelling: Day could have carved out a career playing cute secretaries and funny best friends, perhaps hoping one day to land a regular part on a sitcom as the oddball but still attractive girl who tags along with the ingenue, but instead she took hold of her own future and veered into a form of fame that essentially didn't exist before she jumped into it. This is the story of how an odd little introvert became a star in a manner that was uniquely her own.

The word "adorable" is often used to describe Felicia Day. This word also seems apropos as a description for her memoir. But "adorable" isn't sufficient to describe this book. It is funny, silly, insightful, lovely, and uncompromising. It is also honest and raw, with Day opening up at times to bravely reveal her vulnerabilities and insecurities, as well as the dangers she often faces as a result of her weird celebrity, including her brush with GamerGate and other parts of the misogynistic sewers of the internet. Through it all, Day's personality shines through, with all of her crippling self-doubt, nerdy optimism, and creative brilliance. If you like Felicia Day, you'll love this book. Even if you don't like Felicia Day, you'll probably love this book. It is simply that much fun to read.

Potential 2016 Hugo Nominees

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